Serving the System: Disillusion, Deception and the Obama Campaign

Arthur Silber has the second part of his powerful "Choosing Sides" series up now: Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition. There is little I can add to the insight and eloquence of the piece -- just go read the whole thing, and follow up on the links provided there as well.

But I would like to highlight two particular aspects of the post. First is Silber's succinct description of the "corporate-authoritarian political system" that confronts us at every turn with its soul-crushing, death-dealing power:

This system encompasses every area of our national life....The military-industrial complex -- or what is now often more accurately described as the military-industrial-congressional complex -- is the most significant component of these interrelationships, but there are many other parts. They encompass all major industries, and almost every minor one, as well as many of our educational and cultural institutions....

This system as it exists today consists of innumerable interrelated, constantly moving parts. Countless agencies, commissions and bureaucrats act in concert and on their own to expand their power, and that of government generally. The system has a life of its own; it is its own reason for being. It sustains itself, and it seeks more and more territory for its dominance. The exercise of power and the acquisition of still more power are not directed at the improvement of the lives of "ordinary" Americans, whoever they may be; ordinary Americans are of no interest or concern to the ruling elites, except insofar as their labor and often their lives are necessary for the maintenance of the lives of immense comfort and privilege enjoyed by the powerful. Power is not the means to some other end, although that claim is a crucial element of the extraordinarily successful propaganda so willingly swallowed by the public. Power -- its exercise and maintenance, and the acquisition of still more power -- is the end.

Again, see the original for the several illuminating links provided.

Silber also deals extensively with two important articles by Pam Martens recently published at Counterpunch. (Here and here.) As Silber notes, Martens is a personal admirer of Barack Obama, and believes him to be a more or less sincere tool of forces beyond his control. Yet this does not prevent her from doing what legions of "progressives" -- especially in the blogosphere -- seem congenitally unable to do: look at the reality of the Obama campaign in the face. And Marten's reality-based analysis of the campaign's real nature is absolutely devastating. She shows the true backers of Obama's candidacy:

A Wall Street cartel of financial firms, their registered lobbyists, and go-to law firms that have a death grip on our federal government....Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages. These latest frauds have left thousands of children in some of our largest minority communities coming home from school to see eviction notices and foreclosure signs nailed to their front doors. Those scars will last a lifetime.

She also exposes the rank hypocrisy of Obama's claim to be free from the influence of the Big Money lobbyists who wield such overwhelming, sinister sway in Washington. This claim is, to put it bluntly, an egregious lie. As Martens demonstrates, Obama's Wall Street backers are also some of the worst, most corrupt lobbyists -- such as Greenberg Traurig, former home of that master criminal of the Bush Regime, Jack Abramoff.

Senator Obama's premise and credibility of not taking money from federal lobbyists hangs on a carefully crafted distinction: he is taking money, lots of it, from owners and employees of firms registered as federal lobbyists but not the actual individual lobbyists. But is that dealing honestly with the American people?

As Silber notes, Martens quotes to telling effect from the editors of the Black Agenda Report:

The 2008 Obama presidential run may be the most slickly orchestrated marketing machine in memory. That's not a good thing. Marketing is not even distantly related to democracy or civic empowerment. Marketing is about creating emotional, even irrational bonds between your product and your target audience.

Martens goes on to report that "the Obama campaign has spent over $52 million on media, strategy consultants, image building, marketing research and telemarketing." As Silber says, you should read Martens' articles in their entirety to get the full impact of her facts and analysis.

In his piece, Silber kindly quotes from a post I wrote, in which I noted that the very small differences between the two major parties could have significant effects, because "even minute mitigations in the operation of vast power structures can translate into real benefits for many ordinary people, simply due to the scale on which such structures operate." But Silber goes on to note, quite rightly:

If you choose to support one party over the other because of those "minute mitigations" that "can translate into real benefits for many ordinary people," that's fine -- but intellectual honesty ought to compel you to recognize the great danger you're courting.

He has much more to say on this theme -- again, go read the whole thing -- but it is a point worth stressing again. As I noted in this earlier post ("Disabuse Your Illusion"):

Whether these mitigations of injustice and suffering in certain instances outweigh the cost of participating in – and thereby to some extent legitimizing and perpetuating – a system that inevitably produces injustice and suffering on a massive scale is a question that each person must decide for themselves, in their own individual conscience.

And this question is certainly pertinent in the case of Barack Obama. For by the choices he has made in picking advisers to help him shape his policies, he has given every indication that while his presidency might represent a better management and presentation of the current system, it will in no way overturn or even seriously challenge it on any essential point. In other words – and bearing in mind the type of not-insubstantial mitigations noted above – he will keep doing what Bush has been doing, only more competently, less radically, with a greater care for the long-term viability of the power structure. And what is that structure that Obama seeks to refine and extend? It is an imperial system based on militarism and the exaltation of elitist profit and privilege above all other concerns.

It's your choice. But as Silber says -- "at least be honest about the nature of your choice." Have the courage to do what Martens and Silber are doing, and look reality in the face.